Subscribe via RSS Feed

Tag: "commitment"

IT as Great Facilitators Part 4

What Great Facilitators Know About Estimating

IT-Great-Facilitator-4Last post, I shared an exercise that helped teams understand how to develop a plan that is manageable and achievable. I call this “Commitment Based Estimation”.  Now, I will show how great facilitators can play a role in making their teams super confident about their estimates.

Who Should Facilitate an Estimation Session?

Before we talk about how to be effective at facilitating estimation sessions,  I’m going to discuss how to select the best person to facilitate these sessions.

I typically find that the team-lead drives estimation sessions. Project Managers and Architects are also fairly popular in this role. The key, however, is to find a person who can allow the team to own the estimate.

When a Project Manager leads the estimation, they usually drive a team to develop estimates that reflect the project plan. Once the Project Manager starts imposing schedules, or challenges the team to constantly optimize an estimate, then the team won’t feel ownership. This is not how to get a Commitment Based Estimate.

Similarly, when an architect drives the estimate, they typically assume a technical frame of reference and try to help the team understand the mechanics of the estimation. If they impose their vision for the complexity of certain tasks, once again, the team won’t feel ownership.

So who makes the best facilitator for estimation sessions? I’d say look for a person who is:

  • Part of the team and has skin in the game
  • Already a respected leader and trusted by the team not to impose their personal views
  • Is experienced in helping teams balance risks, contingencies and dependencies

One Rule You Should Never Break

There is one rule the facilitator must never break: Allow the team to come up with estimates they believe in. Unless the team is very junior or new to estimating, every team needs the freedom to come up with their own estimates. If the team asks for two weeks, never impose a shorter schedule and tell them to get the job done in one week.

Now, you may be thinking: Does this mean I can never challenge a team? It does not. What is does mean is that as a good facilitator, you ask the right questions and help them share and test their assumptions.

For example, ask the team: “What would you need to get this done in a week?” or “How much can you get done in a week?” By asking the right questions, the scope may get reduced. Now, you get the deliverable within a week because the estimation was not imposed on them. Again, the facilitator does not want to undermine the ability of the team to own the estimate.

Other Things Good Facilitators Can Do:

Some of the other approaches that have helped me personally manage some very strong groups include:

  • Make sure the team does not give an estimate that is simply unrealistic.  I talked about this in a past blog called “Attitude of Estimation”.  As a facilitator, you want to encourage the team to come up with an estimate that is workable.
  • Ask questions and create assumptions to make the team think of scenarios that might happen. This helps the team create more accurate estimates.
  • Make sure everyone has a voice. Business Analysts need to be able to articulate the business needs and clarify what is being delivered.  Project Managers can offer perspective on dependencies and resource availability.  The QA team needs to test not only to see if something works, but also to see if the product is in compliance with business needs. Developers, Architects, and the database team also need to weigh in.  Too many times an estimate does not include a full set of voices and results in inaccurate estimates and mediocre functionality.

Have you ever been in an estimation session where the facilitator was more of a hindrance than a help?

I hope you have enjoyed my 4-part series on facilitation. If you missed them, here are the links:
IT as Great Facilitators Part 1
IT as Great Facilitators Part 2
IT as Great Facilitators Part 3

In my opinion, there are way too many people who take the facilitator role for granted.

I think there are some jobs that are too important to perform any less than perfectly. Facilitation is one of them.  A poor facilitator can break the spirit of a super talented team while a great facilitator can lead a good team to surprise itself on what it is capable of.

IT as Great Facilitators Part 3

Commitment Based Estimation

IT-as-Great-Facilitators-Part-3I want to tie together two concepts I have blogged about in the past few months. Specifically, how proper facilitation can help a team confidently develop a plan that is realistic and manageable.  This is what I call Commitment Based Estimation.  As a quick review, Commitment Based Estimation is an estimation approach that helps a team:

  • Develop estimates they genuinely believe are achievable
  • Feel ownership for their estimates
  • Treat these estimates as commitments and therefore honor them by managing to their plan

You can find my previous posts on this topic here:

Experiencing Why Commitment Based Estimation Works

I’ve used the following facilitation exercise to help teams understand some of the flaws with our typical approach to estimation.  This activity also demonstrates why Commitment Based Estimation can lead to much higher quality results.

I always do this 2-part estimation exercise in person and always with a group of people. Important: If you do this with others, be sure to state the following rules:

  1. You cannot ask any questions. Do your best with the information I give you.
  2. Write down your answer. This is important (especially when doing this in groups).
  3. You cannot collaborate or look at your co-worker’s  answers.

I’d like you to choose a shopping mall or large shopping center that is a typical weekend shopping destination for folks near your office.  The key is that it shouldn’t be across the street from your office, but requires a planned trip to get to.  For example, where I work, there is a shopping center called Oakbrook Mall, which is about four miles from my office.

Now here is the first step.  I’d like you to personally estimate how long it will take to leave your office, go to the shopping center, and find a store that carries designer sunglasses.  Then, purchase a pair of glasses with mirrored lenses for your spouse or other family member.  Then drive back to your office and drop off the glasses.  Oh … and one other thing… On your way  back to the office, please pick up an ink cartridge for your inkjet printer.

Now, I challenge everyone to come up with the estimate above. They each get about 90 seconds to come up with their answers.

The First Readout…

I then go around the room and ask everyone to read exactly what they wrote down as their estimate. It is important they use the exact words they wrote down. 60 minutes is not the same as one hour.

If you do this with a group, you will get all different answers. Typically you will get:

  • Someone who is  optimistic and says a very short time. From my office, they might say 30 minutes.
  • A  few folks who give a pretty precise estimate. For example 53 minutes, or one hour and 12 minutes.
  • Someone who  might be swagging it at one hour or “an hour and a half”.

That Was the Setup. So Now You Change the Game…

After everyone has done their readouts, I then say “great job” and explain that I want them to estimate again. However, this time  they have something to lose. I pretend that I am giving away an iPad or some other prize to the three folks who provide actual estimates.

So, I want them to redo their estimates. Knowing there is a prize at stake, they now have something to lose!

And Then the Fun Begins…

I now give the group another 90 seconds to redo their estimates.

If you actually created an estimate while reading along, I’d like you to take the opportunity to make it “more accurate”.  Pretend you could win a real iPad if you create an estimate that you can deliver on.

I then go around the room and ask everyone to give both estimates.  So again, here are some typical results during the second readout:

  • The person who was optimistic at 30 minutes says: My original estimate was 30 minutes and my new estimate is 42 minutes.
  • The folks with the precise estimates of 53 minutes either stay the same, or they may go up a little to 61 minutes.
  • (This baffles me.) There’s always someone that will take their estimate and actually lower it. They may go from 80 minutes down to 70.
  • And every once in a while someone “pads” their estimate and says “one full day”.

Seriously – the Lessons We Can Learn …

This seems like a hokey exercise. Yes – I am a hokey person 🙂 .  But let’s look at the real takeaways:

  1. When we did our first estimate, we didn’t take it seriously. The goal of the entire activity is to realize that if we have something at stake, we will actually estimate differently, and try to come up with an estimate we can confidently deliver on.So when our project teams are estimating, are they approaching this as the first go around?  Are they saying “You want an estimate? 53 minutes.”  Or do they understand there is something at stake?  They should re-think and verify that they can deliver on their estimate. Do they understand there is much more than an iPad at stake?
  2. We assume that an estimate should be as low an estimate as possible, even if it creates risk to delivery.When we estimate, are we so afraid of estimating for real world contingency and risk that we always estimate optimistically?  We probably shouldn’t pad to a full day, but we aren’t asked to make the estimate the “best case scenario” either.It should be an estimate that we all believe is achievable and can be managed to!
  3. When I do this in group, everyone wants to ask questions.  Is there construction?  What time of day are they going? Do they know what store has the glasses?  But as part of the rules, I say no questions are allowed.When they do this exercise, they can even be frustrated that they are being asked to create an estimate without knowing these answers. They think “How am I supposed to estimate this”?And this is exactly what happens in real life with our project teams!  It is the nature of our world that teams will always have some questions that can be answered and many others that cannot be answered. Yet, we still ask them for estimates that we can plan and execute against.

Commitment Based Estimating

Commitment Based Estimating is about helping a team deal with all three of these challenges. In my next post, I will talk about how proper facilitation can help a team deal with these challenges and deliver a Commitment Based Estimate that everyone believes in and the team can manage to.

Can you think of any situations where it would have been worthwhile to try this exercise before delivering an estimate?

The Requirements Session Has Started. Do You Know Where the Business People Are?

When it comes to software requirements definition, engage the business … early, often and methodically

ClassroomLast week, I shared the results of a recent survey taken at a IT trade conference on the role of business in driving software requirements. Most of the people taking the survey stated that they consistently struggle in two areas: Connecting with the business and managing requirements throughout the development cycle.  They also admitted that at least part of their requirements process is broken.

This week, I’ll provide some thoughts on how to pinpoint some of these broken processes.

 

About to Start Requirements? Read this First.

During the requirements phase of a project, expectations and confidence run high. However, this is also the phase where lack of best practices begins to undermine success and worst practices rise to the surface.

Before you start the requirements phase of your next project, take an important first step by looking very closely at the “condition” of your people, processes and metrics.

Before you start the requirements phase of your next project, take an important first step by looking very closely at the “condition” of your people, processes and metrics. In his white paper, “Doing More with Less: Best Practices for Processes, People and Metrics” [PDF], Geneca Vice President and Managing Director, Bob Zimmerman, suggests asking the following questions to draw out areas in need improvement.

How do you work with the business?

  • Do all business stakeholders agree on the goals of the project?
  • Who owns defining requirements? Is this different from who owns “documenting” requirements?
  • How do you know when a particular part of a project is complete? How do you know when the overall project is complete? Does your team have this information and does it align with business objectives?
  • In general, after collecting requirements, are Change Requests introduced during the first 30% of the development lifecycle?

How do you track projects?

  • Do project status reports show progress in terms the business understands or is it in “IT speak” requiring translation for the business?
  • Is project success determined by being on budget? On schedule? Meeting the original business objectives and ROI? Which one?
  • Does your team use one internal project tracking report for status while the external report is different? Or is there a common report showing progress on the project?
  • Do business and IT team members typically have a consistent view on project status and health?

Are project roles and responsibilities clearly defined?

  • Is there a single person and role accountable for technical issues?
  • If you deliver a solution that works but is missing key features required by the business, is there a single individual and role that is accountable?
  • Are your project managers accountable for tracking progress and making project health visible? Are the responsibilities for this role consistent across all projects and project managers?

By answering these questions, you should be able to hone in on the areas of your requirements practices most likely to impact your ability to satisfy business expectations.

For successful requirements definition, the various players need to be involved in ways they might not have been before. If the business is not 100% committed to making this happen, even the most talented development teams cannot predictably give the business what it needs.

Organizations that hold the business stakeholders accountable to define their needs enjoy better results. These teams do a better job eliminating guesswork and rework, supporting change control, improving testing efficiencies and, most importantly, delivering exactly what the business wants.

10 Ways to Create a Culture Where People Feel Valued (part 2)

10-2-300x162Last week we looked at maintaining consistency between your mission statement and daily execution; dealing with unexpected changes in your business; the importance of transparency; and the need for each employee to uphold corporate values. This week, we’ll look at six more culture building practices:

  1. Hold management accountable: Empower everyone to protect your corporate culture. Create an environment that is safe for employees to raise concerns, voice opinions and challenge threats to your strategy. Test management’s ability to withstand challenges and put away the egos. Common vision means we all want the same thing: To maintain corporate culture and insure the ongoing success of the company.  The best decisions are made through open dialogue and exploration of diverse ideas.
  2. Set yourself up for success: In every project, business commitment, or customer engagement, set yourself up for success. If you don’t believe you can take on the work without compromising your corporate values and quality of outcome, then restructure the project, the approach, or turndown the business. Strive to make death marches a thing of the past. Nothing is more demoralizing then being set-up to lose.
  3. Be willing to make hard decisions: You’ve found the perfect candidate from a skills and experience perspective. You’ve been looking to fill this position for months but the candidate is not a cultural fit. Do you hire them? Alternatively, the deal-of-a-lifetime has presented itself. You can take on the work but an aggressive “go-live” date means you will have to burn-out several key contributors and maybe even sacrifice some quality on delivery. Do you take on the business? Every time you make a decision that doesn’t support your culture and values you widen the gap.
  4. Raise the bar: Never settle for “Good-Enough.” Whether it’s you products, your people, solutions, service, or corporate strategy, set the expectation and demand excellence. Every individual in the company should be empowered to expose and eliminate mediocrity.
  5. Create awareness: From the individual to the board of directors, being aware of how actions, interactions, and decisions impact people and culture is key to success.  Make awareness habitual; remind yourself and your organization to ask repeatedly, “How does this impact our peers and employees, the quality of our products and services, or our reputation with our customers or market place? Do the decisions and actions we make support our corporate culture and values?”
  6. Don’t panic: There are many things that can force an individual or organization to panic: Changing economic times, a set-back on a project, a challenging customer, or the everyday demands of the business. It’s in the midst of these pressures that people most often panic and revert to their old bad habits. Don’t panic. Take a step back. Look at the problem in the context of your corporate culture and values and take action accordingly.

People and Principles Come First

Valuing your corporate culture has to be systemic. It has to be a strategic objective and it has to be reinforced with people and systems that insure culture is preserved. Both the company and the people need to invest in and commit to maintaining the culture.  Will you be challenged to break old habits? Sure. Will you have to be reminded from time to where your cultural “true north” is? Absolutely, but building culture into the way you do business means you have checks and balances that allow people to correct course before it damages what you value most…your People.

Does your organization “walk the walk” when it comes to corporate culture?  What practices have worked best for your company?

Photo Credit: thomas nicot

10 Ways to Create a Culture Where People Feel Valued

I have always rankled at the much over-used corporate phase, “People are our greatest assets.” I’ve heard the words pass the lips of senior executives in both large and small companies, across industries and geographic boundaries, yet  time and again I witness that quiet sigh of contempt and disbelief from the listeners.